Fairfield asks feds to exempt Element

WINNSBORO – Fairfield County leaders want the federal government to waive tariffs impacting Element Electronics, tariffs the TV assembler says will wipe out 126 jobs, essentially shuttering the Winnsboro plant.

However, a nonprofit geared toward the manufacturing sector disputes whether tariffs and trade wars are even to blame.

By unanimous vote, Fairfield County Council swiftly approved a resolution on Monday that asks the Trump Administration to spare Element from the 25 percent tax set to take effect.

“Fairfield County is ill-equipped to withstand the further loss of jobs and economic investment due to the recent events surrounding the closure of the V.C. Summer Nuclear Plant expansion project which resulted in the loss of over 5,000 local jobs and billions of dollars in investment that would have positively impacted Fairfield County and its citizens,” the resolution states.

Element initially accepted $1.3 million in tax credits and pledged to create up to 500 jobs by the end of 2018, according to an August 2013 news release from the S.C. Department of Commerce announcing Element’s plans to open a Winnsboro plant.

This past spring, a 10 percent tariff on Chinese goods took effect, prompting Element and Fairfield County to modify the incentive agreement by reducing incentive levels.

If the 25 percent tariff takes effect, Element has said it would be forced to lay off most of its workforce. Although Element is based in the U.S., its televisions consist of components imported from China.

President Donald J. Trump has taken aim at China, specifically, in tariff-related tweets to the commander in chief’s official Twitter page.

His most recent tweet posted Aug. 5, two days before the Element announcement, said tariffs would build economic prosperity.

“Tariffs are working big time. Every country on earth [sic] wants to take wealth out of the U.S., always to our detriment,” the tweet stated. “I say, as they come, Tax [sic] them. If they don’t want to be taxed, let them make or build the product in the U.S. In either event, it means jobs and great wealth.”

While losing 126 jobs is regrettable, unfair trade with China has been much more punitive to South Carolina workers, according to the Alliance for American Manufacturing.

The alliance further claims in an Aug. 8 op-ed to its website that the tariff announcement is merely a convenient way to shift blame.

“Element says it is seeking to have ‘our parts removed from the tariff list’ in order to maintain its taxpayer-funded operations in South Carolina,” the alliance op-ed states. “But nothing has changed — Element still wants the government pick up the tab for its American facility while staying dependent on China.”

In support of its position, the alliance cites a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, an independent think tank many conservative websites criticize as affiliated with the labor movement and left-wing policies.

According to the study, unfair trade with China displaced 50,700 South Carolina workers between 2001 and 2015.

The study ranked South Carolina 13th in jobs lost by percentage of workforce (2.58 percent), though it didn’t break down job losses by county.

“Growing U.S. trade deficits with China have reduced demand for goods produced in every region of the United States and led to job displacement in all 50 states and the District of Columbia,” the study states.

This isn’t the first time the Alliance for American Manufacturing has clashed with Element.

In 2014, the alliance filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, claiming Element was fraudulently stating its TVs were made in the U.S. when they were pre-assembled in China and shipped here.

A settlement was later reached when Element agreed to change its labeling to “assembled in the U.S.,” a moniker prominently displayed today on its website.

At Monday night’s council meeting, however, Fairfield County residents in attendance hardly cared about Trump tweets, trade wars or false advertisement claims.

Their concern was simple. Jobs.

In addition to Element, another 300 jobs evaporated when the Winnsboro Wal-Mart at 721 Highway 321 Bypass shut down in 2016.

Fairfield Memorial Hospital is shutting down later this year. And, of course, there’s V.C. Summer.

Clarence Gilbert of Winnsboro was among the dozen residents taking to the podium, urging council members to take action to save Element.

“It is time for us to drop that ‘oh well’ attitude, to stand up for our county against the potential job losses,” Gilbert said. “You can only poke a cat so long before it can scratch you. Let’s start scratching. Let’s save Element.”

Others used the Element news to lobby for the county to approve repurposing the Mt. Zion Institute building in Winnsboro into a new county administrative building to spur economic activity downtown.
Terry Vickers, president and CEO of the Fairfield County Chamber of Commerce, was among them.

“I’ve been giving plenty of interviews too. It is poor Winnsboro, poor Winnsboro,” Vickers said. “We are not poor Winnsboro and we are not poor Fairfield County. Please don’t let one item [Mt. Zion] be divisive in this community.”


  1. Billy Smith says

    It’s a shame that this article attempts to cast aspersions upon Element, an employer of over 100 people in our County, at a time when our County has the highest unemployment rate in the State of SC (since the SCANA fiasco). Why push a bunch of distractions that have nothing to do with the issue at hand? Element has told us it’s this simple: with the tariffs, they close; without the tariffs, they continue to operate… And if anyone doesn’t believe them, support the exemption request and let’s find out what’s true. If they’re bluffing, I’ll turn on them with you!

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